Mindfulness and work are like yin and yang. When many of us think about work, we picture the endless emails, calls, presentations and meetings, and the frantic mess of all of that packed into a day. On the contrary, mindfulness reminds us of a state of peace and being consciously present with everything we do (basically the opposite of a work environment). However, just like yin and yang, mindfulness and work can be powerful when interconnected and harnessed in the right way.
The question is, how exactly do you become more mindful in the context of a hectic work environment?
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Well, to be mindful means to be aware of your surroundings, actions, and emotions. That means you need to be present moment-to-moment, conscious of what you’re doing while you’re doing it, and how that affects your mental and emotional state. While it sounds really simple, anyone who has tried mindful practices like meditation will understand the tendency of the mind to wander. When your mind does wander, it’s important not to punish yourself, but instead acknowledge the thoughts and then bring your focus back to the present moment.
Mindfulness can also seem counter-intuitive at work. Being mindful forces you to slow down, which is generally what nobody wants to do when they’re desperate to hit deadlines and get things done at high speeds. However, by slowing down and being more conscious of everything you do, you’re consequently speeding up and since you become more productive, efficient AND happy. Just like when you get a really good night’s sleep and feel like you can finally function at your best.
It’s clear that being mindful in a busy environment is beneficial to our health and productivity, but unfortunately, something like meditating in the office is not always possible, so here are four easy ways to incorporate more mindful moments into each work day.
1. Let stress be your friend
Mottos like ‘stress less’ may sound helpful, but they aren’t exactly practical in a work environment. Stress is bound to enter your work life at some point, so it is important that when it does you harness it, instead of letting it eat you up and hence slow down your productivity.
The best way to do that is to change your perception of stress. Stress affects everyone differently, but it certainly invokes a physical response in your body, whether that be an increased heart rate, faster breathing, or heightened senses. Instead of viewing these sensations as something negative, be grateful that your body is reacting and energizing itself ready for the challenge.
Since we don’t always have control over physical sensations, the most important thing with stress is to flip your emotional response to be one of positivity rather than negativity. A mindset like this allows you to be more aware and therefore mindful of your emotional state, and is bound to increase your productivity and achievements in the workplace.
2. Be grateful for opportunities
Being grateful not only makes you look like a humble worker, a quality that will make your boss and co-workers respect you more for, but it actually makes you feel better too.
Humans tend to look at the negativity in situations, but being able to flip this and see things from the ‘glass half full’ perspective will make your work life so much more positive.
Even if opportunities are scarce in your role, or you aren’t feeling entirely happy or fulfilled in your job, try to shift your focus to what IS going well for you. It might be that you have a supportive network, a couple of close friends, or a good-paying job. If things still seem particularly dim after analyzing your job from this perspective, then you may need to think about pursuing a new job (but on the positive side, at least you have learned what you don’t like in a job!).
Also, be grateful for every opportunity that comes your way. Even if it means you are the one put in charge of organizing a team building activity, being grateful that your colleagues trust you enough to put you in charge of that will make your experience completing the task a whole lot better.
Being mindful and positive in relation to opportunities at work will help build your resilience and ensure you don’t spiral into anxiety or negative over-thinking about certain facets of your job.
3. Take time out when you need it
Being mindful is all about being aware of what we’re doing and how it affects our emotional and mental state. If you are feeling burnt out, tired, unenthused or any other negative emotion towards your work, then you probably need some time out.
An accumulation of these emotions might mean you need to take leave from work to properly rest and rejuvenate, but what you ideally want to do is avoid that by taking some time out each day (because we can’t always book a vacation when we really need it!).
It’s important to acknowledge these emotions and feelings when they arise during the workday instead of just ignoring them, and use them as a reminder to take a short break. That can be as simple as going for a 10-minute stroll outside to get the body moving and some fresh air, making a tea and being really present throughout the whole process, or popping in some headphones to listen to some calming music or a quick meditation.
Workers shouldn’t feel guilty for taking these short time outs, because we’re not robots who can work at the same fast speed all day! But taking these breaks will certainly increase focus and productivity.
4. Set mindful reminders
The last tip is super simple— set mindful reminders! It’s so easy to get lost in the craziness of the workday that you actually forget to be mindful. To make sure that isn’t the case, set an alarm (one that won’t disturb your co-workers) or reminder, to serve as a gentle nudge to stay present and check-in with your emotional and mental state.
When I get a reminder at work, I like to use the opportunity to take one big deep breath in before continuing on with my work.
Apps like Headspace allow you to turn on mindful reminders that include a short quote or thought for you to think about. As a Headspace user myself today I got a reminder that said: ‘Have you taken a moment to pause today, to listen, to be present? Try it in this moment now.’ It came at a busy point in the day and was a great way for me to stop for a second and reflect on everything that I had achieved in the day and check-in with how I was feeling. Something like this is so simple, yet so powerful.